Tucker Max had never seen a Broadway show when he was approached a few years ago by Christopher Carter Sanderson, a Yale School of Drama graduate interested in adapting his books for the stage. Max called Sanderson a "theater fag" and speculated that the (straight) drama geek was trying to get in his pants. Sanderson assured him he was not; he just wanted to write a play based on I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell and Assholes Finish First. Tucker wound up cutting Chris a deal: Sanderson would have full creative freedom adapting Max's stories—cribbing ripped-from-the-pages dialogue and modifying Tucker's internal, drunken monologues—and Tucker wouldn't see the show until opening night; in exchange, Tucker got five percent. The New York media immediately picked up on the most unlikely collision of worlds. Much was made of the fully stocked bar that would sit in the theater, and "Bros on Broadway" went the common headline. Jezebel wrote, "Those unfulfilled by simply reading Tucker Max's homophobic and misogynistic books about how hilarious it is to manipulate, objectify and humiliate women will be thrilled that they can now watch a staged production about about 'fucking fat girls' and other ultimate frat boy fantasies. Yep: Tucker Max's I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell is coming to an off-Broadway theater hopefully very far away from you."
The truth was far more complicated. Sanderson had never seen his play as an homage to Tucker. Or, really, a complete bashing of his persona, either. I Hope They Serve Beer on Broadway is instead an attempt to "say more than the book says," delivering both the stories of Tucker Max, which Sanderson describes as "hilarious,"and a surprisingly serious message about human sexuality. That message: We don't talk nearly enough about sex.
"The beauty of the theater is that it educates and entertains," Chris told me over the phone this week. "It can do both. it can appeal to people who enjoy it on the base level and those who want to be educated. And here we were trying to have a frank, honest discussion about sex."
And weirdly, I think this play could be a major step in providing a redemption to Tucker Max. As well as bridging the worlds between bro culture and the forces it repels.
I Hope They Serve Beer on Broadway opened to a sold-out Off Off Broadway run on June 5. (Its script goes on sale today, and will be available for regional productions, starting this fall on the Rutgers campus at George Street Playhouse.) An actor named Abe Goldfarb played Tucker—the supporting cast included New York drama geeks. The crowds that filled the theater were diverse. There were the bros who unapologetically love Tucker's shit, guys who have shied away from the material over the years, and then those who wouldn't be caught dead reading I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell.
The script hewed close to the original books. Frighteningly close. I thought most of the scenes were directly taken from the pages. Chris told me they were not.
A sample scene goes like this: Chris took on the infamous "Tucker Tries Buttsex, Hilarity Does Not Ensue" story. It's maybe the most disgusting (and hilarious) of all his literary achievements—Tucker finally convinces a girlfriend to try anal, but before doing so, he quizzes a gay friend about the logistics. The friend says lube will need to be used. So Tucker pours half a tube of AstroGlide on his penis, not knowing that the enormous amount will ultimately cause a chain reaction that ends with diarrhea, vomit, and lube covering the room, the girl, and Tucker. As Tucker writes it, he describes that moment of discovery, as shit and vomit surround everything, filling every orifice, as his "crowning moment."
"My eyes locked with Jaime’s, I saw her moment of realization and then her quick shift from shock and surprise to complete and irreparable anger. Between bouts of hurling she flipped out:
'OH MY GOD–BBBLLLLAAAAHHHH–YOU FILMED THIS, YOU ASSHOLE– BBBLLLLAAAAHHHH– HOW COULD YOU– BBBLLLLAAAAHHHH–I THOUGHT YOU LOVED ME–BBBLLLLAAAAHHHH–OH MY GOD– BBBLLLLAAAAHHHH–I LET YOU FUCK ME IN THE ASS–BBBLLLLAAAAHHHH.'"
But in the play, there's an actress delivering the line. You see a real-life woman, covered in fake shit, saying something that's ultimately kind of heartbreaking. Says Chris, "On paper, you read Tucker saying about a girl, ‘I thought you loved me. I let you fuck me in the ass.’ It's funny, it’s self-obsessed, it’s narcissistic. But when a trained actress says it with emotion, it’s so strong. I saw women gasp with understanding. And I also say guys laughing out loud. It works both ways.
"I wrote this for someone who thinks the book is hilarious, and wants his girlfriend to read it. This is a gateway to Tucker. And as soon as she’ll read the book she’ll understand the humor."
Anyone who thinks through Tucker's books will have issues with them. His earlier work—laced with self-loathing—is very funny. The narcissism seems like an act, a way to bullshit his way through life. As you continue, though, the shitty behavior and, yeah, the misogyny gets to be a little much. There is no redeeming arc. You just grow to hate the guy.
But here, in a play, you finally see the consequences of Tucker's actions, and it's possible to laugh while thinking. His narcissism wrecks lives. Including his own. The play ends with Karen, who had just blown him, leaving him for another guy. In the books, Tucker spins this as, "Karen and I never hooked up again. And she ended up seriously dating the guy she met that night. And he still doesn’t know what was on her lips when they met…” In the play, you see the scene for what it really is: A guy coming to terms, any way he can, with a girl leaving him.
"Every man will read that scene and realize how they can mellow out and realize when they’re possibly being laughed at," Chris said.
And this is really the most fascinating part of the play, and why bros should be interested in what's happening here. In a play, Tucker's stories don't get a chance to exist just as they were spun in his head, glorifying himself and all his actions. You instead see external forces, actual human beings affected by a guy who acts like an irredeemable douchebag—and the conflict, more than anything, creates a golden opportunity for guys and girls to talk about sex. "The ultimate mission," said Chris, "is forwarding the dialogue about sex. When we don’t talk about sex that’s when intolerance happens, and that’s when people don’t get laid. We want everyone to get laid."
That particular conversation has the ability to bring together vastly different worlds. On Wednesday, Playboy, BroBible, and the Huffington Post were unknowing participants in a prank sprung by FORCE, an anti-rape group. FORCE created a fake Playboy party schools list, that, "for the first time ever" accounted for consent in its rankings. The Playboy ruse was helped, in part, by fake versions of BroBible (with the url "BroBibles.com") and the Huffington Post, both covering the "story." Our fake page included the headline "Hugh Hefner Says Rape is Not Bro," and the article was a thoroughly agreeable message about consent. We said as much, and BroBible and FORCE, a feminist group, kind of bonded over it all. It's been a weird, but positive development from the dialogue.
Chris told Jezebel a few months ago that he finds bro culture "sexist, misogynist, exclusionary and ultimately doomed," which irritated me, a lot, at the time. But Chris and I also have bonded over these issues—all started simply because of the creative reimagining of one bro's self-created world.
And I think you can laugh at Tucker without taking the man's worst traits. It's possible for guys to be complicated, and to not fall in line with everything that comes with an identifier, be it "theater fag" (as Chris was called while, coincidentally, he was having a fling with a hot chick), or "bro" (as Tucker is called, much to some other bros' chagrin). You can understand the other side, as corny as it is. All it takes is talking.
I saw Tucker interviewed live in Brooklyn a few months ago. He had just come from the opening show. He was visibly upset by it, and he argued, a lot, with the host about his place in society and what the play meant. He dropped the f-bomb again. The audience—in Brooklyn, I should reiterate—audibly gasped.
He did say, though, that his friends "loved it."
The guy was too narcissistic to comprehend how it was possible to be laughed at and laughed with. But we should.